I could never understand people who did their laundry with horror movies in the background, until the pandemic. The lack of a commute or a social life gave me the time to watch all those famous movies I hadn’t seen before. But mostly, I ended up watching scary ones.
The relief of not having to worry about a deadly virus for 90 minutes and instead getting to focus on something less logical had me seeking out the grossest creatures and bloodiest slashers.
The only burden of being a horror fan is having a bunch of friends who cope with life in other, maybe healthier, ways. What do they care about the latest Alien or Halloween. So, if I can convert you, dear reader, I can expand my horror fan friend-group.
Welcome to beginner horror. It’s a lush, varied genre, and I’ve compiled pointers on where to start so you don’t go scaring yourself silly with the latest Ari Aster.
These aren’t deep cuts - they’re generally in the cultural lexicon, so you don’t have to go digging, and any horror fan will know them.
There are 4 tiers, so take my hand, and in we go….
Tier One: Simply Spooky
Been avoiding anything with merely a spider?
Fear not. Start out with animation and family-friendly films. Here, you’ll find dark themes. But if it’s fun for the whole family, nothing should have you leaping out of your seat. These are designed to delight.
This candy-colored Tim Burton favorite has all the spooky Halloween aesthetics you could dream of: graveyards, ghosts, body horror, and fashion that’s just to die for. Still, it has a PG rating, a cast of mostly beloved actors, and multiple dance scenes to keep things light.
When asked if Neil Gaiman’s manuscript was too frightening, the publishing agent’s daughter lied and said it wasn’t — and a children’s book it became. The movie deviates from the book, but Henry Selick’s stop-motion masterpiece pairs the book’s creepiness with dazzling fantastical visuals.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Disney’s take on the Salem witches! Scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are eerier than this movie, so if you’ve been changing the channel every October, you might want to flip back.
Also try: Spirited Away (2001), Over The Garden Wall (2017)
Tier Two: Horror Comedy
Here you’ll find horror’s most iconic creatures or plots stolen from the big leagues. The aim is to get you laughing along with mild thrills.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
In this dragtastic Frankenstein cult musical, there’s far more camp than horror. Check October for midnight showings in a theater where you can watch it among a crowd of people who know every line — and toss some toast and rice.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Your 90-year-old grandmother saw this on Broadway, so you’ll likely be fine. Unless you’re terrified about cannibal plants taking over the world. Or the dentist.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Lay the groundwork for the horror classic Dawn of the Dead with Shaun of the Dead. There’s no better way to watch a zombie apocalypse than through the eyes of two slackers who barely comprehend what’s happening.
Also try: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988), Freaky (2020), Happy Death Day (2017)
Tier Three: Horror Lite
Some of these are technically still comedies, but we’re going up a notch. Nothing that’s going to scare your pants off.
This is a horror movie with absolutely no suspense. Director Nobuhiko Obayashi was tasked with creating Japan’s response to Jaws — instead, he ran with his pre-teen daughter’s wildest ideas. What remains is a dreamy absurdist film full of images you won’t forget.
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
This Universal Monster movie holds up better than its contemporaries. The Gill-man’s underwater sequences are just as terrifying today, but the 1950’s vibe keeps it from hitting too close to home.
Ready Or Not (2019)
This is a dark Knives Out. It starts with a wedding of the heir to a board game empire, involves Satan, and escalates to a lively final act.
Also try: An American Werewolf in London (1981), Trick ‘r Treat (2007), The Lost Boys (1987)
The Final Tier: Beginner Horror
You did it! Welcome to full-blown horror movies. These are designed to scare you, but nothing's on par with The Exorcist.
Train to Busan (2016)
This South Korean zombie film will have you rooting for the brave team of misfits who band together to fight a pack of wicked-fast zombies. You’ll more likely shed a tear than die of fright.
Ghostface is one of the great masked movie villains, but this one's a meta-comedy and a mysterious whodunnit.
This Stephen King likely won’t play on your biggest fears. Oh, you’ll feel James Caan’s abject terror, trapped as a hostage. But if you’re not a bestselling author, being kidnapped by your number one fan isn’t what keeps you up at night.
Also try: Get Out (2017), Drag Me To Hell (2009), The Ring (2002)
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